»Too dirty to be pronounced from ethnic Lithuanian mouth«

By PhD candidate Neringa Latvyte-Gustaitiene

It was absolutely clear to me that we should not ignore locations where historical trauma events have taken place when teaching people about trauma and memory transmission. Such places physically exist; monuments dedicated to victims have been erected by different memory groups and annual commemoration ceremonies have been held. Yet, very often, trauma locations are forgotten and are excluded from local narratives. Our primary goal was to impart theoretical and practical background knowledge to teachers, educators, librarians, and memory institution specialists who are memory agents and work with younger generations.

Despite the fact that the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum works quite closely with teachers, gathering together participants in one week was quite a challenge. Our partner, The International Commission for the Evaluation of Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, helped us. The organization works directly with teachers. Its activities are also welcomed by teachers, who broadly trust the commission. In the end, a total of 49 participants were registered over the course of four days. We also invited librarians because they are able to help teachers by recommending materials that can be used when teaching people about past trauma. In future, librarians could partner with teachers and memory institution staff members in joint projects.

With this event I have realized that many subjects and memories are not talked about and that it can be scary to start to speak about them. After the event, I felt a little overwhelmed by my thoughts. Another very important finding was that, although we understand how to work with sources, we do not have sufficient methodology to work in trauma locations.

The majority of the participants felt that bringing pupils to a mass killing site was equal to giving them a lesson on the Holocaust. It's not imperative that pupils know where they are or what has happened at the location. For teachers and educators never attain the results they expect, even when pupils have prepared and understand Holocaust chronology.

When visiting the site, we discussed good and bad teaching practices and in situ learning with participants. We talked about problem-orientated teaching (rather than fact-orientated teaching), the involvement of new sources, and so forth. Usually, visits to trauma sites include a presentation focusing on data (when, what year, what month, what day) and statistics (how many victims, perpetrators, mass extermination pits, corpses, monuments, commemoration events). While this is important, it doesn’t present a wider perspective or promote understanding of what happened, why participants are there, and why we should remember.

So, with that in mind, seminar participants discussed how to include in a curriculum the diaries of those who witnessed the mass exterminations at Paneriai. We talked about how to analyze such sources and the importance of not only reading extracts but also trying to find out more about the experiences of bystanders who witnessed such crimes. Instead of speaking about local collaboration, maybe it would be better to discuss the choices that perpetrators, victims, and bystanders faced. This could include the study of new ego documents (the protocol of trials involving collaborators and perpetrators, for example) in order to explore trauma further.

I have noticed that there is some fear involved in speaking about the Roma Holocaust, so I’ve recommended that teachers visit the alternative memorial sign in Paneriai, which commemorates Roma victims. I’ve asked them to talk about why the sign was built, whose idea it was, why there is a sign not a grand monument, why the site has an information panel, and who initiated the sign’s installation. If it is difficult to speak about the past, then I believe we should try to speak about the present—pin down exactly what hurts and the issues we face in terms of stereotypes, prejudice, lack of knowledge, and, perhaps, fear of future trauma.

I have noticed that, in terms of general Holocaust education, teaching people about the Roma Holocaust creates additional challenges. Often, teachers don't want to hear about the Roma community. It is a topic that comes back again and again in Lithuania, where “never again” fails. Anti-Gypsyism is experienced on a daily basis, and teachers are ill-prepared to fight it. One teacher shared their experience of a Roma child being called Chinese because the word Roma was seen as too dirty to be uttered by an ethnic Lithuanian. In everyday communication, the Lithuanian words cygan, tzygan and čigonas are still very popular.

This was the first time that the university’s Faculty of Communication had organized such a seminar for teachers, librarians, and museum specialists. It was challenging because academics quite often feel superior to teachers and educators. However, by holding the event, we broke down barriers and connected the two sectors. We all learned that the group of teachers and educators needs more help with methodological tools, especially in terms of how to communicate trauma heritage, how to explore trauma sites, and so on.

IN SITU or PLACE-BASED EDUCATION (PBE) is an approach to learning that takes advantage of place, venue, site to create an honest, meaningful and engaging learning experience for the learner. It is immersive learning process where a learner understands their role in the concrete environment, landscape, social circle and historic moment.

Photo credits: Tomas Jakūbonis